“Teach Me Tonight” (season 2, episode 19, originally aired 4/30/2002)
These two episodes are the necessary conclusion of the “Jess annoys everyone, Lorelai is weirdly insensitive and unlikable about it” arc that is season two of Gilmore Girls. “Teach Me Tonight” is the most dramatic the show has been by far, in that it revolves around a car accident that we don’t even see onscreen which gives Rory a hairline fracture. It occurs while Rory and Jess are returning from a trip to go get ice cream. Perhaps not as scintillating as one might want, but for Gilmore Girls it’s startling stuff.
This episode tries to confront the contradiction that is Jess head-on, and it only partially succeeds at unraveling him. Here’s a guy who’s very smart, marking up his copy of Slaughterhouse-Five during an unrelated exam like it’s nobody’s business. As Rory remarks, he could ace every test if he set his mind to it, so why doesn’t he? Jess’ response is typical bad boy: I’m not going to college, I’ll make my own way, I’ve been abandoned by everyone, blah blah. It’s not quite convincing enough, which Rory points out, but we never get to investigate further. Jess just isn’t quite convincing enough because the show won’t allow him to be truly off the rails, and won’t allow his life to be truly miserable.
Still, I can see how he’s disinterested in the college track. “Maybe I’ll work in a diner,” he says to Luke sarcastically, but Luke (an admitted trade school candidate who calls himself “the Einstein” of the family) takes it to heart, realizing Jess needs more intellectually-minded role models. He selects Rory as a tutor, quite a ballsy move that he does under Lorelai’s nose but without really consulting her, and it sets all the drama in motion.
Again—the “drama” is Rory and Jess studying ineffectively for a while, then going out to get ice cream, then getting in an unavoidable accident, which ruins Rory’s Dean-built car but otherwise doesn’t do much harm. Lorelai is horrified and rips into Luke, but the show isn’t giving her much of a leg to stand on. It’s a surprisingly unsympathetic moment for her, although I wonder if the show intends it as such. I don’t have a kid; maybe if I did, I’d sympathize with Lorelai’s overreaction. After all, it could have been quite the scary situation.
But it’s not, not really. Rory’s at the hospital, but she just needs a cast on her wrist for a couple of weeks. Honestly, the biggest nightmare is for Luke, who is confronted with a hysterical Lorelai (who takes her sweet time to tell him that Jess is okay) and the prospect of his own kid being missing. Scott Patterson just nails his panic, which is a little steelier but just as heartfelt. “I am sorry about Rory. You know I care more about her than I do myself. But at least you know where Rory is and at least you know that she's okay. Now I have to find Jess, and I have to make sure that he's okay, and if that cuts into your screaming time, well that's just too damn bad!” he screams at Lorelai.
Lauren Graham gets plenty of credit as an actress, but there’s one area I particularly want to praise, and that’s her “I’m in trouble but I won’t admit it” face. She usually uses it in arguments with her mother, but it’s very well-employed here as Luke tears her a new one. You can see her maintain her angry composure while internally admitting she might not be entirely in the right. It’s no easy task but Graham communicates such complicated feelings with great subtlety.
“Teach Me Tonight” is a real winner. It packs in the Jess/Rory accident (which is preceded by some top-notch flirting), a film festival Lorelai has to curate (against her wishes, she’s boxed into picking The Yearling), an abstract short film by Kirk starring Mary Lynn Rajskub and Jon Polito (which is an utter masterpiece) and an appearance by Christopher in protective dad mode. It manages to keep things light even as everyone’s fighting and crashing cars. You’re mad at Lorelai one second, but laughing along with her the next.
“Help Wanted” (season 2, episode 20, originally aired 5/7/2002)
Then, in “Help Wanted,” you continue to be peeved with Lorelai while finding her utterly charming in the episode’s A-story, which sees her bond with her father while she helps him set up his new business. She’s stepping in for the mysterious Margie, his long-time secretary who has finally left him, and he instantly forms an attachment. It’s classic Richard—he expresses his affection so indirectly, but if you look hard enough, it’s there, and he’s real charming when he wants to be.
In “Help Wanted,” Richard is momentarily peeved when Lorelai finally has to stop filling in as his assistant and return to her real job. But we still understand that they’ve built upon their relationship, entirely positively, for the very first time. In “Richard In Stars Hollow,” Lorelai got to understand her father on more of an emotional level, but coming to that realization involved some pretty fraught discussion. Here, he fully understands what a smart, hard worker his daughter is instead of being so damn patronizing all the time. It’s a nice thing to see.
But ugh, Lorelai is such a pain when it comes to Jess. Everyone in the town is! Rory, cast on hand, goes around expecting retribution from everyone: Dean (of course), Taylor (whose bench ad was smashed by the car), Babette (who babbles about Jess’ cultish appeal), and her mother. Everyone immediately forgives her, of course. She’s Rory! She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. It’s that awful Jess’ fault and that’s the end of that, thank God he’s gone.
Rory is understandably miffed. She was enjoying her flirty ride just as much as Jess, and she gets none of the consequences. That’s no good for a girl with such a healthy respect of the rules. Her final flip-out at her mother is perfectly done, and Lorelai waffles on with a speech about how “she wins” and she gets to hate Jess forever. It’s very unbecoming, while still just understandable enough. One still doesn’t hate Lorelai at the end of it! At least, I don’t! But it’s also her last moment, as far as I can remember, where she really lacks any compassion about Jess. She thinks her enemy is vanquished. But he is neither her enemy, nor is he vanquished. God, I can’t wait for the next episode.
One other thing to note about “Help Wanted:” it takes two full years, but the show has finally found a purpose for Lane. Keiko Agena is a charming actress but boy does that character take a while to have a place on the show, especially as she doesn’t even go to Rory’s school. But once she enters the new music shop owned by the sarcastic Sophie (Carole King), and sits down in front of those drums, well, that’s that.
- Lorelai and Rory debate movie options. “Arthur!” “Yes!” “Or, Sophie's Choice.” “Very similar.”
- The principal of Stars Hollow High complains that Jess has stolen every baseball on campus. “We've been using tennis balls for a couple of weeks. Very different results.”
- The descriptions of the Taylor-approved movies are amazing. “Sudden Danger. Mom dies of gas asphyxiation. Son blamed, good kiss scene.”
- Kirk’s directorial muse is famed sitcom director Asaad Kelada, who he briefly confuses with Akira Kurosawa.
- Lorelai ponders what lie to tell her parents about Rory’s cast. “What do you have so far?” “Really big bees.”
- Richard is baffled by modern technology at the office supply store. “Here we have an assortment of magic sticks, and when you press down on paper, ink comes out,” Lorelai says, explaining pens.
- He compares his daughter to “that tiny fellow on the MASH program, always anticipating!”